The Akita originated in northern Japan many centuries ago, probably descending from northern spitz-type dogs. Akita is a rugged, mountainous area at the north end of the main island of Honshu. The Akita was known there as the matagi or the matagiinu, meaning the “esteemed hunter.” It was used to hunt deer, black bear and wild boar. According to an American Kennel Club publication: “The Akita’s hunting abilities include great strength, keen eye and nose, silence, and speed in a durable, sturdy body suitable for hunting in deep snows. His hard, intelligent, never-give-in attitude in the field was prized by his masters. His soft mouth enabled him to retrieve waterfowl after they had been brought down by the hunter’s arrow.”
In addition to its instinctive hunting skills, the Akita was bred specifically to be a pit-fighting dog, used to fight other dogs in specially staged competitions during the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries. As dog-fighting became unpopular - and in places, unlawful - the Akita found a number of other ways to use its talents. The breed continues to be used to hunt wild boar, deer and other large game. It also is a trusted guard dog, police dog and competitive show dog. Finally, the Akita has become valued as a loyal companion. Through generations of selective breeding, today’s Akita has superior size and a fearless spirit. He can be somewhat obstinate and requires firm but kind leadership from his owner. The Akitainu Hozankai Society of Japan was founded in 1927 to preserve the purity of the Akita breed. In July of 1931, the Japanese government designated the Akita as one of its country’s national treasures. Akitas were instrumental in World War II, and the breed rose markedly in popularity after the war, when returning American servicemen brought Akitas home to their families.
Akitas were first introduced in England in 1937. That same year, Hellen Keller visited the Akita prefecture and was given a two-month puppy by the Ministry of Education, which she brought back to America. The Akita Club of America was founded in 1956, and the breed was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book in 1972. The Akita was fully accepted into the Working Group in 1973. In the United States, Canada and Australia, the American Akita and the Japanese Akita are considered to be the same breed. In all other countries, they are treated as separate breeds. Some American Akita fanciers are trying to split the breed in two. While the two “types” of Akitas share a common history, the American version is larger and comes in more colors.
The average life span of the Akita is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include:
- Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus): An extremely serious medical condition where a dog’s stomach becomes filled with gas that cannot escape.
- Deafness: Defined as the lack or loss, complete or partial, of the sense of hearing
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
- Entropion: The inversion, or the turning inward, of all or part of the edge of an eyelid
- Glaucoma: Characterized by fluid build-up inside of the eye. It causes increased vision impairment and, if untreated, blindness.
- Hypothyroidism: Clinical syndrome caused by inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
- Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges, which are the membrane layers that cover and protect the outer surface of the brain and spinal cord
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Refers to a group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes
- Sebaceous Adenitis
- Uveodermatological syndrome
- Von Willebrand Disease: the most common hereditary blood-clotting disorder in domestic dogs